Latest Downtown in Business ‘Power Panel’ in Liverpool city centre brings digital and marketing entrepreneurs and professionals together to discuss issues that are important to the private sector. Tony McDonough reports
Digital and marketing businesses in Liverpool city region claim the process of writing detailed bids to secure new contracts was often a waste of time – and some have stopping writing bids altogether.
And one entrepreneur claims some companies will publish tenders via an EU scheme that allows them to claim back 40% of their costs when they have already chosen who they want to carry out the work.
The comments were made at a round table discussion in Liverpool city centre organised by business lobby group Downtown in Business.
It was the latest in the organisation’s series of Power Panels where the key issues on business and the economy are discussed. The events are held under Chatham House rules, which means we can report what was said, but not who said it, offering those present the freedom to speak frankly.
The panel began by discussing whether it was better to employ someone externally to write a bid for your company – or minimise costs by keeping the process in-house.
It was agreed that it was better to have someone with experience at writing bids oversee the process but added it was frustrating that so often who would get a contract was already pre-determined and the the bid process was a sham.
Referring to the EU scheme whereby businesses can claim a 40% discount by going through the process, one said: “More often than not they have already chosen who they want.”
There was particular frustration with the procurement process for public sector contracts which it is claimed is overly complex and bureaucratic and therefore favours bigger businesses who have the resources to put together more detailed bids.
One speaker said: “We have just submitted a bid that was 256 pages long. In reality, who is ever going to read all that? If you are an SME without the resources to submit such a bid you will have no chance.”
Another added: “Some of them ask the most ridiculous things… one wanted to know what our slavery policy was. It is just about jumping through too many hoops and we have stayed away from tendering altogether now for a few years.
And another said his firm would only put in a bid if they were invited to do so and therefore felt they had a realistic chance.
However, another member of the panel whose company did often submit bids said it could provide fruitful even if the initial bid was not successful.
“It can get your name known among people and they may approach you at a later date,” he said. “With one housing association contract we came second because, despite winning on price and creativity, we had no previous experience in that sector.
“But 18 months later they came back to us saying the winning bidder had not been able to deliver on what they wanted.”
The panel also agreed that too much focus on price could often prove counter-productive, citing the example of construction giant Carillion that collapsed after taking on big contracts on wafer-thin margins.
Selling the city
The panel also considered how Liverpool city region could best market itself to the rest of the UK and the world. A point raised at a previous panel – that there were too many public sector agencies overlapping – came up again this time.
“Too many agencies such as Liverpool Vision, Marketing Liverpool, the local authorities, the LEP and the Combined Authority seemed to overlap – we need more consistency and coherence.”said one participant.”
Another added: There are many good things going on in the city region and we have come on a great deal. If you take the visitor economy, last year we sold 2m hotel bedrooms and welcomed 62m visitors.
“However, when it come to the number of agencies in the city region then we do have a very crowded stage and the situation could be better.”
Another panellist said: “There are too many voices coming out of Liverpool city region – too many people with too many conflicting ideas.”
It was agreed the public sector needed to meet more regularly with the private sector to air such concerns.